To commemorate Sri Aurobindo’s 125th birth anniversary in 1997, the Sri Aurobindo ashram has begun to bring out Sri Aurobindo’s Opera Omnia in a fine uniform library edition of 37 volumes (39, if we consider two unnumbered volumes: the Glossary to the Record of Yoga — an appendix to Record of Yoga, volumes 10 & 11 — and a separate volume containing the English translation — evidently not made by Sri Aurobindo – of the volume 9, Writings in Bengali and Sanskrit).
It will be — as far as possible — the first integral edition of Sri Aurobindo’s writings.
The set is not already completed; thus far, 32 volumes have been issued, and the publication of the entire set is expected to take another three years (maybe completed in 2017).
Here below we give the title of each volume (each volume already published has a special hyperlink relating the contents):
1. Early Writings
2. Collected Poems
3-4. Collected Plays and Stories
6-7. Bande Mataram
9. Writings in Bengali and Sanskrit
10-11/38. Record of Yoga
12. Essays Divine and Human
13. Essays in Philosophy and Yoga
14. Vedic Studies
15. The Secret of the Veda
16. Hymns to the Mystic Fire
17. Isha Upanishad
18. Kena and Other Upanishads
19. Essays on the Gita
20. The Renaissance in India
21-22. The Life Divine
23-24. The Synthesis of Yoga
25. The Human Cycle
26. The Future Poetry
27. Letters on Poetry and Art
28-31. Letters on Yoga
32. The Mother
35. Letters on Himself
36. Autobiographical Materials
37. Reference Volume
This first edition of the COMPLETE WORKS is a limited edition of 2500 setsonly, hardbound in a uniform format. Each volume will have 500 pages on the average (size: 9.5" x 6.5", that is 24x16 cm; typeface: Sabon, 11 point; paper: special acid-free paper for longevity; cover: cloth-bound in hard cover).
A dedicated team is working to prepare the texts for publication. To ensure their accuracy, the text of each volume is being checked at least twice with Sri Aurobindo’s manuscripts and the early editions of his work (particularly, the ‘Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library’, also known as the Centenary Edition, published in 1972).
In certain cases (as in the revised edition of Savitri, which took several years of editorial work), the checking has included a detailed study of the various stages of copying, typing and printing — processes involving persons other than the Author — through which the texts reached its published form. So, a substantial number of discrepancies due to accidents in the process of transmission have been discovered.
The method of checking the text will be to trace the source of each difference between Sri Aurobindo’s manuscripts and the printed version. Difficulties in the final manuscripts are solved by reference to earlier manuscripts. Most of the differences between the manuscripts and the first editions are found to be changes dictated by Sri Aurobindo at some point in the process of revision. But a significant number of divergences due to slips or misreadings on the part of Sri Aurobindo’s assistants are also identified (fortunately, the documents for almost all the texts have been preserved; thus it is usually possible to make a clear distinction between inaccuracies in transmission and deliberate changes made by Sri Aurobindo).
It is a really complex and meticulous work, that requires devotion, precision, and above all faithfulness towards the original texts. It is important to realise that “textual criticism” is a complex and specialised field. The authenticity of the texts, rather than subjective preference, will be the guiding criterion, because the duty of the textual critic (that is to say, the editor) is to present the text exactly as the author would have wanted it presented (the editor is at no time free to make a purely subjective decision about what the author “would have wanted”). The whole difficulty is to apply this principle in the countless textual situations that arise while preparing a text for publication. And finally, as Gaskell observed, «every textual situation is unique» (From Writer to Reader: Studies in Editorial Method, Oxford University Press), so that even those rules and methods of procedure that can be formulated are at best only guidelines that must be applied with discrimination in each separate case. The main rule will be, in any case, as we have said, a total faithfulness.
Sri Aurobindo’s great drive for perfection led him to revise both his prose and poetry more rather than less than other authors (for instance, a printed copy of The Life Divine, which is Sri Aurobindo’s most thoroughly revised work, has been found in the late 70’s, in which he has made some further marginal additions!). Perhaps the only writings of his that do not, letters excepted, are ones that he abandoned midway.
It is an axiom of bibliography that no work that has gone through more than one edition can be considered free from transmission errors (errors introduced by typists, compositors, etc.). Even the first edition is unlikely to be free from them. There is also the possibility of editorial corruption. During the author’s lifetime suggested corrections would no doubt have been referred to him; but in later editions an editor or proof-reader, well-meaning but untrained in textual criticism, might have introduced changes for which the author bore no responsibility.
Moreover, a great amount of new texts written by Sri Aurobindo have been found in the last decades — that is to say, posthumously. In these cases, a textual editor clearly is needed, that it will be scrupulously faithful, so that errors of critical judgment do not rob it of its integrity. When the work for the preparation of the present Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo began, the Editor expected to publish 35 volumes, in which 2500 pages did not form part of the earlier Centenary Edition. But, in the making, much more previously unpublished material is being included than was originally planned; so, three more volumes are needed. The aim, as the Editor assure us, «is to make an edition of Sri Aurobindo’s works that is as complete, orderly and accurate as humanly possible».
Generally, the writings of an author are printed in texts where no editorial work is visible. After all it is the author and not the editor that the reader is interested in. But if the text is of any importance and the amount of editorial work significant, the editor has an obligation to state clearly what he has done. This he may do in general terms in an introductory note, and for certain works this alone may be sufficient. If, however, he intends to produce a standard edition, in this case emendations, variants, etc., must be presented in some sort of editorial apparatus. One possibility is to provide notes at the end of the book keyed to the text by page and line reference. Even reference marks (chapter or footnote numbers) can be omitted, leaving a “clear text” free from all editorial presence. This style is undoubtedly the best for works read for their own value by ordinary readers, as opposed to works read for their historical or scholarly interest by specialists. It is this type of presentation that is adopted for this Complete Edition of Sri Aurobindo’s books. With some necessary exceptions. In the two volumes entitled Record of Yoga, published now for the first time (then, posthumously), the very distraction of square brackets serves to remind the reader that the text was not thoroughly revised by the Author (never he intended to publish this records, that forms a personal diary of extraordinary utility for all who are eager to comprehend more and more Sri Aurobindo’s unique ‘impersonal personality’ and the proportion of his real Work), and so needed a certain amount of editorial care. Moreover, the two volumes will be completed by a third, which is a glossary of Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, French, Tamil, Bengali, Hindusthani terms used in it by the Author.
The Reference Volume, forecasted in conclusion of the Complete Works, will provides all the necessary editorial explanations (along with a Glossary of Sanskrit terms included in the same volume, as well as an Index and some biographical notes).
In the same attitude, and in order to avoid the sensation of being unnecessary cumbersome to the eye of the reader by putting heavy editorial footnotes, each volume is equipped with some ‘Notes on the Texts’, placed at the end of each one, generally of undoubted utility, even if sometimes, unfortunately, some views there expressed by the Editor are opinionables and not very worth for an edition of this level. For instance, in the volume 12, there is a note, at page 505, concerning an article of Sri Aurobindo published under the name “The Claims of Theosophy” (a plainly and very pregnant criticism of the Theosophical Society), in which it is written that «however much he [Sri Aurobindo] disagreed with some of the methods or doctrines of the Theosophical Society, he was well aware of the pioneering work done by this movement». Well, what need is there to try to justify Sri Aurobindo in his criticism? It sounds as a diplomatic attempt of the Ashram Institution to maintain a good relationship with the Theosophical Society. But why they make use of Sri Aurobindo’s books for this purpose? And, some lines after, we find really inappropriate to extrapolate a more moderate statement in a conversation with Pavitra on Theosophy to excuse Sri Aurobindo’s words, while in the same conversation he pronounces a direct and sounded criticism towards the theosofical movement.
In any case, it will be extremely useful for us — we may even say indispensable — those books in which Sri Aurobindo’s letters are published by addressee. These are not necessarily published by the Editor of the Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, and we want to include it all in our list (in bold we put the volumes already published):
- Nirodbaran’s Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo
[first Edition: 1984]
volume 1 — 1933-1936
volume 2 — 1936-1938
- Sri Aurobindo and Mother to Prithwi Singh (by Mira Aditi)
single volume — 1933-1967 [First Edition: 1998]
- Nagin Doshi - Guidance from Sri Aurobindo
[First Edition: 1987]
volume 1 — 1933-1934
volume 2 — 1935
volume 3 — 1936-1937
- Sri Aurobindo to Dilip (Hari Krishna M.T. & Mira Aditi)
[First Edition: 2007]
volume 1 — 1929-1933
volume 2 — 1934-1935
volume 3 — 1936-1937
volume 4 — 1938-1950
Moreover, we have to consider also some texts which are the records made by direct witnesses of a certain amount of Conversations of Sri Aurobindo. Obviously, Sri Aurobindo is not responsible for these records as he had no opportunity to see them. So, it is not as if Sri Aurobindo said exactly these things but that the author of the records remember him to have said them. Here the list:
- Purani - Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo
[first Edition: 1966; revised Edition: 2007]
- Nirodbaran - Talks with Sri Aurobindo
[first Edition: 1971]
- Conversations with Pavitra
[first French Edition: 1972; first English Edition: 2007]
- A, Roy - Sri Aurobindo's Talks of 1926
[first Edition: 2021]
Returning definitively to the Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, we may say that generally newly edited revision of significant works must continue to appear until a fully reliable texts, supported by an adequate but not excessive “editorial apparatus” has been published. Only such edition has the right to call itself “critical” or — if such a label is possible — “definitive”. Then, we have some right to expect that the present publication will be an integral and critical edition of Sri Aurobindo’s writings.
— Update May 2021 —
For about five years at least, the subscribers of the "complete" edition of Sri Aurobindo's writings have not received the remaining volumes to complete the work. To be precise, the volumes published so far are 36 (from the first to the thirty-sixth, without interruption). The last three volumes currently missing are:
- Reference Volume (Editorial Explanations; Glossary of Sanskrit terms; Index; Biographical Notes);
- Glossary to “Record of Yoga” (volumes 10 & 11);
- English Translations of volume 9, “Writings in Bengali and Sanskrit”.
Last February we kindly asked the Publisher directly for clarification, who assured us that the volumes are ready but are not yet published and they are unable to give even a conjectural publication date (to quote verbatim, "they are being prepared but have not yet been published"). In order to issue a definitive verdict on the quality of the overall work, obviously we need the complete edition.
At the moment, we limit ourselves to reiterating that so far the work seems to have been done with accuracy and precision. We therefore hope to find the same scruple in these last three volumes. In particular, we await (in the “Reference Volume”, it is assumed) the material that we have not found in any of the volumes published so far - writings of Sri Aurobindo not made public as yet. We point out two of them, by way of example:
1) all the writings of Sri Aurobindo in "Old Aryabhasha": these are rather copious material (at least twenty pages, as far as we know) of inestimable value and which, in our humble opinion, should perhaps have appeared in volume 9, although it is neither Bengali nor Sanskrit, but what we could define as a sort of Proto-Vedic, if not Proto-Indo-European (PIE).
2) the correspondence exchanged by Sri Aurobindo on the (somewhat current!) problem of vaccination. We report a passage in which dr. Nirodbaran (in his book “Memorable Contacts with the Mother”) pauses to briefly describe what happened in the Thirties on the occasion of a wave of smallpox that prompted the French government to put pressure on the entire citizenship vaccinated. Nirod wrote: “The entire long correspondence on this affair, when published, will show with what minute care the Mother considered the health of all the members and how thorough she was in all the details. As a piece of writing, these letters are brilliant with wit, satire and at the same time perspicacity as regards practical directions." Also these letters, again in our humble opinion, should have been included in volume 35 (“Letters on Himself and the Ashram”) or in volume 36 (“Autobiographical Materials”).
We trust that the Publisher understands the importance of these writings (and any others not mentioned here), rather than keeping them secret in the drawer, without logical reasons.
When, a few years ago, the first critical edition of all the manuscripts available by Leonardo da Vinci was published (including, for obvious reasons, his drawings) in 63 wonderful volumes (in 998 numbered copies for the whole world), the Publisher took care - as a duty - to include all the writings available, without distinction. There you can find, to limit ourselves to one example, even the sheets in which the Genius of the Renaissance lists various dishes to buy for himself (strictly vegetarian) and for his disciples (not all vegetarians, by all means). This is to say that a respecting critical edition cannot afford to arbitrarily select what the Publisher considers important and keep aside what it considers of little or no value. Any leaflet has a unique and incomparable importance! We hope that the Publisher of this "complete edition" of Sri Aurobindo's writings is well aware of this universally recognized truth. Conversely, it is not a complete edition.